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Garden City, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-What does five losses in your last six regular-season games get you?
How about a home playoff game.
Such is the landscape of high school basketball in 2016, and Garden City took full advantage of it on Thursday night.
Jared Koster scored 28 points, Erwin Leal recorded his third straight double-figure scoring game with 13, and Garden City topped Wichita North 72-63 in the 6A substate semifinals at the Garden.
The win sets up a rematch with Dodge City in the substate finals on Saturday night.
“We’re playing really well right now,” Buffaloes Head Coach Jacy Holloway said afterwards. “And we’re getting contributions from a lot of different guys.”
For the sixth-year coach, it was a welcome site to see Koster back in the fold.
“Hopefully seeing someone besides a WAC opponent will get Jared going,” Holloway said before the game.
Boy did it.
Koster’s first basket of the night was an off-balance 3-pointer from the left wing that splashed home over Tiylar Cotton. It gave the Buffaloes an early 6-2 lead. His next triple came eight minutes later; it capped off a 15-0 run that turned a four-point deficit into an 11-point advantage.
It was a lead Garden City (7-14, 1-7) never relinquished.
Koster sprinkled in two sensational three-point plays, putting the finishing touches on a 14-point first half that helped his team build a 36-26 lead at the intermission.
Wichita North (5-16, 4-12), who came into the 2016 postseason having lost 10 out of their final 11 regular season games, made things interesting in the third quarter.
Peyton Hatter hit a jumper, Hunter Shockley knocked down a turnaround followed by Kace Vongsadka’s 3-pointer that pulled the Redskins to within five. After two Leal free throws for the Buffaloes, Shockley hit a soft jumper off the glass that made it 42-37 Garden City. Wichita North would not get any closer.
Koster’s final 3-pointer of the night stretched Garden City’s lead back to double-digits with 1:26 to go in the third. Then it was Demarcus Elliott put back at the third-quarter buzzer that put the Buffaloes in firm command 53-40 heading into the final frame.
“In stretches we shot the ball very well tonight,” Holloway explained. “Our defense was okay, but we still gave up 60 points.”
A lot of that came in the fourth quarter as the Redskins drained 5-of-7 3-pointers and were 9-of-17 (53 percent) from the floor. But the Buffaloes countered that hot shooting by hitting 15-of-18 free throws over the final eight minutes to advance to the substate finals for the fourth consecutive season.
“We were able to do the things that we wanted to do,” Holloway said. “And it felt good to have Scotty (Schmidt) back.”
Schmidt missed the final month of the season because of illness. He scored three points and pulled down one rebound in his return.
Garden City’s biggest feat of the night did come on the defensive end. Despite allowing 60 points for the 11th time this season, the Buffaloes held the City League’s second-leading scorer in check. Cotton finished the night with 17 points but scored just six in the second half.
“It’s hard to stay in front of him (Cotton),” Holloway said. “But I thought we did a decent job.”
Wichita North finished 9-for-23 (39 percent) from downtown. It was the 10th time this season that Garden City allowed an opponent to hit six or more 3-pointers.
Garret Doll added 12 points but was just 2-for-9 from the field. Zac Karlin poured in 10 on 3-for-5 shooting.
Hatter notched his third double-double of the season with 17 points and 13 rebounds for Wichita North, who recorded its first back-to-back losing seasons since 2008-2009. Shockley chipped in 16 and six boards.
Next up: Garden City at Dodge City (Substate finals)-Saturday, March 5-5:45 p.m. pregame; 6 p.m. tip on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr; mobile app: KWKR and tuneinradio app: KWKR